Learn About Ingredients in Cat Food

Cats are true carnivores. They require meat in their food. Unfortunately most commercially available cat foods use a lot of filler; cheap ingredients that serve no benefit to the cat.  As a result the cat must eat more food to reach its nutritional requirements. I will refer to the most common cat ingredients and discuss why they are good or bad.
Dry Cat Food


The FIRST FIVE ingredients are the ones you want to pay most attention to. If the top ingredient is a good meat source, but the remaining four are filler, your food may not the best.
If the food indicates that it is Human Grade it means the food is fit for human consumption. If it does not say human grade then it can even be meat from animals who were euthanized.
Chicken Meal, Lamb Meal, Turkey Meal, etc – GOOD Any meat marked with “MEAL” following it is a good source of actual meat. One of these MUST be the first ingredient listed on your bag. Chicken, Turkey and Lamb, being the gentlest on a cats tummy and the least likely to cause allergies. Fish Meal, such as salmon or tuna, should never be the first ingredient, as fish is high in calcium it may contribute to urinary tract problems.


Meatmeal animal fat, and so on – BAD Any unspecified meat is mystery meat. It can come from ANY animal that died and was rendered that day. In the past there have been pet foods found with dog or cat in it. When you feed mystery meat, you contribute to pet allergies as the food will not be consistent from bag to bag.
Corn and Corn Gluten Meal, Brewer’s Rice – BAD if in any of the top 3 positions. A filler really, corn is of no nutritional value and is a common allergen. Corn is a carbohydrate, and should never be higher than fourth on your pets food ingredient list. Carbs will make your cat fat!  Brewer’s rice is a waste product of the beer industry.
Chicken By-Products, and By-Products in General – BAD Cheap filler of low digestibility. By-Products are waste left over by the rendering process. Beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and even feathers. Worse is that by-products are preserved with a nasty chemical pesticide known as Ethoxyquin (see below).
Ethoxyquin Very BAD A preservative. It is a chemical pesticide considered so bad it is banned from use in some countries. It may be used on its own or hidden in the by-Product and as such is considered part of the by-product so may not appear listed on the ingredient list. Has been linked to health problems, such as cancer.

BHA and BHT BAD Cheap chemical preservatives, used in lower quality pet foods. Both have been linked to numerous health problems, such as cancer.

Tocopherols (Vitamin E) GOOD This is a more expensive preservative. It is natural, safe, and will preserve a food up to 12 months.

Rice acceptable, with explanation; Rice is a filler, Brown Rice being exceptionally better than Brewers Rice. Rice Flour also being low in value for nutritional purposes.
Yucca GOOD You wont find this in the top spots, it is a lesser ingredient used primarily to help control odor in the litter box. Also believed to help with arthritis.
Flavors and Colors BAD Color dyes serve no purpose other than to make the people buy the food. The cat does not care if the pieces are different colors, the chemicals used to make flavors and dyes have been linked to health problems.

Again chicken, turkey,and lamb are the gentlest on a cats stomach, where fish might contribute to urinary tract problems.  Always avoid “Chunks in gravy“, gravy is carbohydrates and thus is fattening.  Cats need access to their dry food all the time, and should have canned food when they are kittens. Canned food should be given 1 teaspoon per feeding, ideally mixed with water to make a soup, which will help prevent urinary tract problems. Adult cats may have this mixture once a day.

Two cats, photo by author

Two cats, photo by author


There are certainly more ingredients than I have listed, but these are important ones to watch for. Better food is usually more expensive because of the use of quality ingredients, BUT as a result your pet wont need to eat as much, have fewer health problems, and best of all, have less mess in the litter box.
Every cat food markets itself as the best! I caution you not to take the advice from any one who sells a particular kind of food (and only one food) they are making money by promoting that food and will only tell you good things. This includes veterinarians. They are paid to sell certain foods. I do not want to discredit veterinarians knowledge when it comes to helping sick or injured animals but typically they receive little, or no, training on food brands or ingredients except from food companies who directly approach them to sell their kind of food.
Remember in the long run you can save money by feeding a better food, because you will feed less, and have fewer health problems related to diet.  You will also have less mess in the litter box!

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